Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1990-1994)

29. The Rescuers Down Under
First thing I notice about this one is how great the animation is. The first shot, slowly observing some bugs crawling around on a leaf, before the camera goes launching out across a field is breathtaking and seems to suggest how this film will be much “bigger” then its predecessor. The scope is certainly larger and the Australian outback adds an exotic flavor to the proceedings, despite the fact that only one character actually speaks with an accent.

I don’t know how successful it as a sequel. The character designs are very attractive and well-done, especially the eagle. Bernard and Miss Bianca don’t even show up until about the fifteen minute mark and aren’t even all that involved with the story until the last act. Their relationship has expanded some and Newheart and Gabor are still good together, though her voice has aged considerably.

The story is awfully similar to the first film. George C. Scott makes a great bad guy and he certainly feels like the star of the film as he owns every scene he’s in. I like John Candy as the new albatross and he gets plenty of funny lines though I did tire of the surfer dude bit after a while. The environmental slant to the story is interesting and gives the pace some drive. I thought there was a bit too much of the cute animal antics and how the little boy communicates so easily with them is just a little disconcerting.
[Grade: B+]

30. Beauty and the Beast
“The Little Mermaid” is generally accepted as launching the new era for Disney animation but I think it’s “Beauty and the Beast” that really perfected the formula. It is the best Disney film in overall quality since “The Jungle Book.”

Somehow the animation quality in these films keep managing to get better and better and the quality here is nothing sort of amazing. Like in “The Little Mermaid,” the songs are like numbers and, unlike in that film, all the performances actually move the story forward and develop the characters.

Speaking of which, all the characters are fascinating and interesting. The two title characters and their developing relationship is built effectively. The supporting cast, particularly the castle servants, also have vivid characteristics. And let’s talk about Gaston, the bad guy. What a brilliant way to turn typical clichés on their heads. The square-jawed “hero” is actual a pompous, and dangerous, egotist. How awesome is that? “Beauty and the Beast” is a masterpiece, really, effective as a romance, a fantasy adventure, and a fairy tale filled with character-based comedy and drama. [Grade: A]

31. Aladdin
“Aladdin” is a film that doesn’t really do anything exceedingly impressive. The animation is pretty much the high standard you’d expect and there are many stand-out moments in that respect. All the voice actors are matched pretty solidly with their character but none of them stand out all that much.

Except for Robin Williams, of course. Williams is basically a cartoon anyway and his manic energy is actually kept in check, for once, and Genie is easily the most memorable character in the film.

The music is quite good, especially “Friend Like Me” and “Whole New World,” though it pales in comparison to the composers’ work on “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” The story is standard and Aladdin’s character arc is about as cliché as they come.

All of this would make you think this is a mediocre film, right? But it’s not. Despite all this, “Aladdin” is still exceedingly entertaining. You get the feeling that the Disney creation team was in such a solid niche by this point. They knew how to create an entertaining, satisfying, memorable, lovable film with an ease that should put any other mainstream studio to shame. Just by using the same tools that had worked so well on their other films, they transformed a story that could have been rather ho-hum into another hit. Good job. [Grade: A]

32. The Lion King
With “Aladdin,” the Disney team proved that they could pretty much create a highly entertaining animated feature without even really trying all that hard. With “The Lion King,” they took it to the next level.

This film has something many of its predecessors don’t and that’s subtext. There are a lot of different angles you can come at from this film and it really does transcend the Disney standard of just being a “kid’s flick.” The movie is something of a “Hamlet” adaptation. There’s a lot of discussion about the relationship between father and son. You could see something of a political statement in how easily Scar ascends to the throne. Simba’s tale
of exile and return almost has biblical cogitations to it. The story has legitimate power to it.

On top of this, you have great memorable characters, wonderful music, beautiful animation, and combination of everything above that suggests an expert hand is at work. So, in short, “The Lion King” might be the proudest achievement of the nineties era of Disney animation.
[Grade: A]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1985-1989)

25. The Black Cauldron
Most people remember this film nowadays because it’s pretty much without doubt, though “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” comes close, the darkest Disney animated feature. Separating the film from that controversy and taking it on its own terms, it’s a fairly successful fantasy adventure. Disney is obviously not completely committed to the dark material as three cute funny animal sidekicks are featured and a generous amount of light comical touches are added. Still the dark mood, suicide of a major character, undead army, animated cleavage, lack of songs, and the first on-screen blood in a Disney Animated Feature since “Sleeping Beauty,” adds enough excitement and edginess to keep this interesting.

The character’s are only slightly more compelling then your typical fantasy clichés and the plot and pacing could be better. The Horned King, voiced brilliantly by John Hurt, is a very threatening presence and ranks among the best Disney villains. The animation is very good with memorable character designs and moody coloring. I liked the score a lot too. The movie also features a death cheat, usually something I would hate, but they at least try to make it part of the plot, so the cop-out hurts less. [Grade: B]

26. The Great Mouse Detective
As I’ve sat back and re-watched all these Disney films, I’ve tried to separate them from the vague childhood memories I have. Nostalgia clouded ramblings never make for good reading. However, in this case, I just can’t do that. This was probably my favorite movie as a child and I can recollect watching it once a day at one point.

Of course this isn’t all that surprising considering it’s the only Disney animated feature to star Vincent Price. And he sings in it! Twice! He’s so great as the villainous Prof. Ratigan that I wonder why nobody cast him as the villain in a live-action Sherlock Holmes film. This is also one of the rare cases were the villain is as interesting as the hero of the story. Basil of Baker Street is certainly one of the less “straight” heroes as he’s prone to bouts of depression in-between his general cool as a cucumber persona. The rest of the cast is quite good as well though I honestly can’t remember any of their names. The film retains a little bit of the darkness of last feature and might be a little scary for young children. (The slow building of music box
melody leading to… Ah, I won’t spoil it but I’ll tell ya’, it’s awesome.)

The pace is also some of the best you’ll find in a DAF. The story never looses a beat and runs at a steady clip throughout. I love how easily this story could exist in the same universe as “The Rescuers.” I could go on and on for pages about how much I adore this film but I’ll just close by saying “The Great Mouse Detective” is, without question, my all-time favorite Disney animated feature.
[Grade: A]

27. Oliver and Company
Another “Pets in Peril” film with good music and little else to offer. The movie features the music of Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Huey Lewis, and one of the Pointer Sisters. Considering how very ‘80s the tunes are, they hold up well.

The animation is the standard for the time and is fairly bright and colorful though it doesn’t have any standout moments like the Big Ben sequence in the last feature or the Cauldron consuming the castle in “The Black Cauldron.”

Retooling “Oliver Twist” as a cute animal movie certainly doesn’t rate among Disney’s best ideas but it could have worked with some colorful characters. Sadly, that’s where this film fails. You’d think with an ensemble cast filled with talented actors that it would work but the groups of characters are all horribly underdeveloped. The cast is probably too large considering how one-note most of them are.

I found the climax pushed my suspension of belief even for an animated feature. Still, the movie really isn’t bad. It doesn’t overstay its welcome at seventy-eight minutes, there are one or two funny lines, and it should be perfectly pleasant viewing for the youngins but the rest of us really only have the music as a reason to stick around.
[Grade: C]

28. The Little Mermaid
This is the film generally credited with launching Disney into another golden age of animation, with a long succession of high-quality and successful animated films following.

The music is a primary reason for this success. For the first time in a long time, all the songs really feel like performance numbers, though how much some of the tunes advance the story is questionable. The voice acting, which lacks the big star voices that characterize many modern animated in favor of actual talented performers, is quite strong. The film features a much smaller cast then past Disney films and instead provides a captivating central group of core characters. Ariel is change in pace for a Disney princess in that she is not only interesting, but actually strong-willed and less submissive. Ursala, in the kind of role that could’ve been played by an aging Betty Davis or Joan Crawford, is a great villain with her manipulative intentions. The love interest, Prince Erik, still comes up with the short end of the stick personality wise but is still more rounded then Snow White’s Prince Charming.

The animation is beautiful of course and utilize many of the tools invented for the earlier eighties animated features to full effect. My biggest problem with the film is how overstuffed the final act feels. A lot of plot points come up pretty quickly and the final confrontation is a bit rushed. While later films would be better, I can understand how this would set the studio back on it’s feet, creatively and finically. [Grade: A-]